Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Town Square

The Town Square

When I am depressed, I walk. I stroll slowly around the town square in my mind, peering into the empty storefronts of my past, hoping I might find some memories I left behind. Memories not for brooding, and certainly not for reliving, but as clues to understanding why, exactly, I am depressed.

I look into the oldest shop, Childhood, first. I see some of my old favorite toys lying abandoned in the thick dust, especially The Monk: the small stuffed monkey I slept with for years and years, its body furless from endless petting and full of stitches from Mom’s repairs. I am petting my old friend right now as I write this because, in my mind, I can. And all these years later, he still gives me comfort.

I have come for memory clues, and they are here. My father, a liar and a cheat and a drunk, telling his drunken cheating lies. The verbal fighting and the physical abuse late into the night. My Mom’s anger and hurt. Her sad attempts at making us appear to be a normal family, when in fact we were neither normal nor a family. I feel these memories, too. The nearly constant fear while waiting, waiting, waiting for the next explosion that always came and tore me into emotional pieces.

Lying near The Monk I see an old baby rattle, and I wonder: Was I afraid even then?

I peer through the window of School and I can smell chalkboard dust, fresh pencil shavings, and the starch in Sister’s habit. It is truly amazing, how I can actually smell smells in my mind, even though the classroom is long gone. Sister is faceless, but her words are as sharp as if she'd just spoken them: HELL and eternal damnation for my sins. How God writes them in my book of life and how, on Judgment Day, I will have to give an accounting of myself. I feel these memories, too. The terrible dread, the trembling in my stomach, and a fear even worse than the fear of home.

I have come for clues and I have gotten them. I back away from the grimy storefronts because I have no more use for them. They are dangerous places. Should I tarry too long I will find myself not living in the past, but dying in the past.

There is an idyll in the town square of my mind, a quiet place with big beautiful trees and a gazebo where I can think and put the puzzle pieces together. Sometimes the puzzles are easy, the cause and effect self-evident. Once I know the cause, I am able to work on change.

But this one, this depression puzzle, is much more difficult. Depression, I have come to know, is fear. Deeply ingrained fear. Toxic fear. Fear of other people, fear to trust what they say and do, fear to trust what I say and do. It is always there, the fear, hiding just below the surface waiting to pounce on me. To attack me with sudden panic, an experience so intense and terrifying that I cannot put it into words. In one burst of panic, always sudden and without warning, my mind questions every thing I have ever done or said, every decision I have ever made, and tells me they were all wrong. My mind, in a few milliseconds, makes me question the very existence and value of me. Add shame to the fear.

My mind. My mind is me, it is my soul. It is my heart and my spirit. It is who I am. It is the only part of me that will live after I die (if in fact there is such a thing). The rest of me is all machinery, a body full of support systems for my soul.

So I am left to sit here on my park bench and ponder the question, is it nature or nurture? Was I born depressed, or has a life of fear caused it? Maybe it isn’t an “or” question at all, but an “and” question—a mixture of both. All I can say for sure is that I did not choose it willingly. I do not revel in it. I cannot “just get over it”, or “snap out of it”, or worst of all, “pick myself up by my bootstraps and get on with it”.

The best I can do is what I have been doing for thirty-five years: I weather the storms on my park bench, telling myself that I am a good person, a helpful person, a loving person, and then I move on with my life by strolling around the town square, ignoring the rotting, dirt-encrusted storefronts . . .

[This post is dedicated to all who suffer from major depression and/or panic disorder, whether diagnosed or not. My one hope is that it will help someone, anyone, even just one.]


koonsmother said...

Eloquence, thy name is Charlie.

mapstew said...

What a lovely man you are Charlie.

I have suffered depression and panic/anxiety attacks in the past, and have been known to 'wallow'! I try my best, and succeed almost always to overcome these feelings nowadays. But if it wasn't for my family, or maybe, if I am truthful, because of my family, I would probably not be the man I am today.

As our friend from Glasgow has been teaching me, we have to be strong for the ones who depend on us to be so, and in the long run, it DOES make US stronger!

Peace, and peace of mind to you friend. :¬)


Robert the Skeptic said...

Nature or Nurture? Likely a combination of both, Charlie. As you well know, minds can be scarred from years of abuse.

It is amazing to me here in the 21st century how many still do not understand the roots of depression... least how to deal with it. One therapist told me to "just to be happier". For this she got paid?!?! I never went back.

For some, prescription chemicals which alter other chemicals already in the brain are of some help. But often that is a delicate balance act of trial and error.

There are those who do understand and want to help... but in the end, we generally all find a way to cope on our own.

The story of mentally visiting the Town Square is an eloquent example.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's a hard tale, Charlie, but so beautifully told. I hope there are many beautiful gazebos for you to escape to.

I have a loved one who has fought depression and severe anxiety most of her life, and I don't know if we will ever really determine the cause(s). All I can do is to be supportive and to try to make her laugh when she needs it.

I wish you peace.

Diane said...

I nodded to myself as I read this touching piece. I can relate to much of what you have written, and I wish you always many more happy days than those filled with gloom. PEACE!

Wandering Coyote said...

Beautiful piece of writing, Charlie.

You know my history so I won't go into it here. But I think there is a very interesting connection between depression and fear, now that I look back upon my past, too. Fear is almost as prevalent as anger in my childhood. I have always assumed depression was more associated with anger, so you have given me some good food for thought.

I still have my childhood stuffed animals, BTW. They are a little worse for wear nowadays, but they are my most precious possessions.

Pat said...

'telling myself that I am a good person, a helpful person, a loving person,'
I believe this to be true Charlie - about you.
I'd love to have a quiet sit with you in the gazebo.

Tiffin said...

Charlie, a sensitive, creative child exposed to that kind of fundamental betrayal in the figure who is supposed to protect and nurture him...well, no wonder there is emotional scar tissue. For you to be able to articulate it as you have is amazing.

I don't know a single soul without something, some issue, some internal storefront which is hard for them. This post reaches out to our common humanity and somehow comforts, for all its sadness.

Beautifully written.

Meg said...

That was beautiful, Charlie. You paint scenes so vividly. Many can relate to your thoughts here.

Fay's Too said...

Oh my friend, Charlie. May I copy and use that with the people with whom I work? You know, it's myself I really want to "use it" with. That was beautiful and strong like a willow is strong. Good on ya!
Seriously - permission to reprint?

Charlie said...

LINDA: Coming from you, your comment made me blush. Thank you.

MAP: You're right, I am lovely, especially when I wear the proper color shoes with my ensemble.

I hear you about strength, and that's what it takes--moping about, whining, or doing nothing only makes it worse.

ROBERT: It might be the 21st century, but mental illness as a whole is not understood by anyone who hasn't been afflicted with one (or more)--including that therapist--and so the stigma of 150 years ago is still alive and well.

BARBARA: Thank you for the writing compliment, Zombie writer.

The "cause" of depression isn't really known, so this piece is my interpretation and way of dealing with it.

DIANE: You left me a wish, so here is one in return: I wish you didn't relate to some of the things I said.

Charlie said...

WC: I'm going to muddy your waters a little more. Could it be that fear and anger are related, or perhaps the same thing?

PAT: I can't think of anything more wonderful than sitting together for a chat.

I wonder, though, which one of us would do the most talking.

TUI: The only way I can respond to your beautiful comment is to say, thank you. And that you are the Mistress of Comments.

MEG: Thanks, kiddo, and I hope you're right.

FAY: Yes, you may copy it. But I would also like to "talk" to you. Please email me at callahanc1[@] (I am not a stalker.)

Wandering Coyote said...

They are definitely related. They are almost two sides of the same coin.

St Jude said...

I love you Charlie and your beautiful writing, have since the day we 'met'. This post is why!

(Oh for heaven's sake, don't panic I'm not getting all sloppy on you. Saint's are allowed anyway! I think I may have visited that town square too.)

kara said...

when i'm depressed, i dance in the living room to the wu tang clan.

do try it sometime. 100% guaranteed or your money back.

not FDA approved.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Charlie. I can totally relate to how you cope during these difficult moments. Sometimes, we just need to affirm our goodness as a person, especially if we haven't been getting these affirmations from other people.

Sometimes, just to establish a connection, I smile at people (total strangers) while I stroll. Maybe I can help them cheer up a bit.

Timekeeper said...

Charlie, I agree with Peter S. In the 1960s the main thing I learned living on the road was, I got back what I projected. A good attitude was everything. Thanks to my mother, I understood that we are mirrors reflecting from one another. But it still took the journey, the walk in the town square to sink in that God put rules in place at the beginning of the universe. And the rules never change. When a disaster occurs it’s not directed at anyone personally. The Great Mystery / God is beyond understanding. And that will never change. We can try entering the mind of God, but Mama said we can’t hold face to God. We can look at each other and find comfort we are not alone with the human experience, depression being one.
I share your pain. Timekeeper

Charlie said...

WC: ... Or maybe the same side of the same coin.

ST JUDE: Ah, the day we met. Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it.

You're allowed to get sloppy, Saint, as long as it isn't throw-up. Throw-up, quite frankly, makes me throw-up.

KARA: You dance to the wu tang clan? Hell, they're the guys I order Chinese take-out from!

A little song
A little dance
A little Chinese
Down your pants.

PETER: Affirming one's goodness (self-worth) is indeed a coping mechanism and a large part of Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy (CBT). The Town Square is my way of coping.

TIMEKEEPER: With absolutely no offense to you or your mother's beliefs, I do not include God in any of my life situations because his existence is conjecture.

"We can look at each other and find comfort we are not alone with the human experience, depression being one."

I agree that we are all part of the human experience, but we are also selfish individuals. I would not find comfort lying buried for days in the rubble in Haiti on the basis that it's part of being human—it would be a terrifying experience unique to me. And so it is for depression, as well as all other mental and physical illnesses.

I hope you agree to my right to disagree—-

nursemyra said...

What a lovely post

Susan O said...

I have to agree with koonsmother

Eloquence, thy name is Charlie.

That was lovely.

Susan O

Mary Witzl said...

What Kara said, Charlie. Another thing that sometimes works is singing crap songs. If you need any, I'm a veritable stockpile of them, just ask.

And if you don't submit this beautifully-crafted piece to some journal, I'll come and give you a cyberkick in the butt.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Nicely put, thank you Charlie.

In my case depression tends to be triggered by inwardly-directed anger: I'm too good at looking at the world and wondering: "why not?" I was lucky in that when I went into therapy for a while my therapist was a young girl who listened to the list of problems that I was frustrated about not solving then asked, sweetly, "well yes, they're all important problems, but who died and made you God?" I've found that a useful challenge in my bleaker moments.

savannah said...

thank you, charlie. i am so glad to have met you and to know that y'all are only a keystroke away! xoxox

Susan O said...

I like your therapist. My therapist after asking her "why me, why, why, why, blah, blah, boohoo,boohoo, she looked at me very seriously and said, "Susan, SHIT Happens!


In my case depression tends to be triggered by inwardly-directed anger: I'm too good at looking at the world and wondering: "why not?" I was lucky in that when I went into therapy for a while my therapist was a young girl who listened to the list of problems that I was frustrated about not solving then asked, sweetly, "well yes, they're all important problems, but who died and made you God?" I've found that a useful challenge in my bleaker moments.

Charlie said...

NURSEMYRA: Thank you for the compliment. I know your name, have seen it someplace, but I'll be darned if I know where.

Don't worry, it'll come to me around 3 a.m. during an otherwise peaceful night's sleep.

SUSAN O: Welcome again, and thank you for the compliment. It was one of those kind of things that almost wrote itself.

MARY: Thanks for the offer, but I have my own pile of crap songs. I sing 'em crappy, too. As a matter of fact, I'm not allowed to sing in the house.

Submission to a journal is a good idea, Tee-cha, but kicking your writing students is NOT allowed!

SAVANNAH: You're such a beautiful lady! xoxox back atcha.

Charlie said...

KEVIN & SUSAN O: Hmm. Am I seeing double, or is it just me? I'm confused, but that's fairly standard for me.

The point, however, is a good one. We want to "fix" the world, our jobs, our families—we want to be perfect and, when we can't, we get angry. And depressed.

Yes, shit happens, and we have to learn to accept it and ourselves. None of us can ever reach perfection, no matter how many times I've tried.

Kim said...

I cant tell you how much it moves me to read what you have written. I know I am just catching up here and the discussion is already over on the last few posts, but I wanted to tell you how much it means to others who suffer to be able to read your stories, it makes a huge difference ,thank you for sharing Charlie

PS~WeLoveYou and I am sending you a million hugs

Charlie said...

KIM: Just like P.S.-I Love You, if a post helps just ONE person, then its made a difference in two lives: theirs and mine.

And a million hugs back to you, although that might be a bit excessive.


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